A group of stick figures collaborating in various ways, with a green stick figure in the middle (the designer) participating.
Design is messy. But that mess should be shaped by the oppressed communities it has failed to serve.

A synopsis of Costanza-Chock’s “Design Justice”: nothing for us without us

“…whether the affordances of a designed object or system disproportionately reduce opportunities for already oppressed groups of people while enhancing the life opportunities of dominant groups, independently of whether designers intend this outcome.” (p. 41)

“…a Black person might experience a micro aggression if their hands do not trigger a hand soap dispenser that has been (almost certainly unintentionally) calibrated to work only, or better, with lighter skin tones. This minor interruption of daily life is nevertheless an instantiation of racial bias in the specific affordances of a designed object: the dispenser affords hands-free soap delivery, but only if your hands have white skin. The user is, for a brief moment, reminded of their subordinate position within the matrix of domination.” (p. 45)

“An object’s affordances are never equally perceptible to all, and never equally available to all; a given affordance is always more perceptible, more available, or both, to some kinds of people. Design justice brings this insight to the fore and calls for designers’ ongoing attention to the ways these differences are shaped by the matrix of domination.” (p. 39)

“…designers tend to unconsciously default to imagining users whose experiences are similar to their own. This means that users are most often assumed to be members of the dominant and hence “unmarked” group: in the United States, this means (cis) male, white heterosexual “able-bodied,” literate, college educated, not a young child and not elderly, with broadband internet access, with a smartphone, and so on. Most technology product design ends up focused on this relatively small, but potentially highly profitable, subset of humanity. Unfortunately, this produces a spiral of exclusion, as design industries center the most socially and economically powerful users, while other users are systematically excluded on multiple levels.” (p. 77)

“Design justice is interested in telling stories that amplify, lift up, and make visible existing community-based design solutions, practices, and practitioners.” (p. 134)

“[Design justice] doesn’t mean lowest-common-denominator design. Quite the opposite: it means highly specific, intentional, custom design that takes multiple standpoints into account. It is not about eliminating the benefits of excellent design unless everyone can access them; instead, it is about more fairly allocating those benefits.” (p. 230)

Professor of programming + learning + design + justice at the University of Washington Information School. Trans; she/her. #BlackLivesMatter.